Three College Cheerleaders Abducted After Basketball Game By Man Wielding Gun

“If we're going to die, we might as well die together and die fighting,” one of the two survivors told her friend.

January 24, 2023
Kermit Smith, Jr., pictured here, was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree rape, and common-law robbery, and he was sentenced to death.

On a cold night in 1980, three cheerleaders at a Southern school fell victim to a man who held them hostage — and only two of the three survived the harrowing ordeal.

Photo by: Halifax County Sheriff's Department

Halifax County Sheriff's Department

By: Aaron Rasmussen

On a cold night over 40 years ago, three cheerleaders at a Southern school fell victim to a man who held them hostage — and only two of the three survived the harrowing ordeal.

Around 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, 1980, North Carolina Wesleyan College students Dawn Killen, 19, Yolanda Marie Woods, also 19, and Whelette Collins, 20, left the gymnasium of their Rocky Mount school after attending a basketball game.

Outside, a man, later identified as 23-year-old Kermit Smith, Jr., stopped the coeds at gunpoint, United Press International reported at the time.

After putting Killen and Woods into his vehicle’s trunk, Smith forced Collins onto the floor in the backseat. He drove around 30 miles to an abandoned gravel pit in Weldon, where Smith reportedly terrorized and raped Collins and then killed her by crushing her skull with a cinder block.

Fearing the worst for their friend, the other two cheerleaders, Killen and Woods, decided they had to do whatever they could to survive.

The Associated Press reported Woods later recalled telling her friend: “If [Collins] doesn't come back, we are not to separate. If we're going to die, we might as well die together and die fighting.”

Around 4:30 a.m., Dec. 4, the women got their chance when Smith let them out of the trunk and they attacked him with a lug wrench they had found. “I started banging him on his head as hard as I could,” Woods said, according to the AP.

They also stuck Smith with safety pins they had straightened out while in the trunk, and Woods, the AP reported, said at one point she kicked their captor in the stomach in what she called a “Charlie's Angels kind of move.”

In the chaos, the pair wrested Smith’s gun away from him — only to discover it was a cap gun.

Still in their cheerleader uniforms, the women managed to escape their captor and hide. They then hiked along a river bank for hours until they finally were able to flag down a motorist, who alerted police.

According to then-Halifax County Sheriff W.C. Bailey, Woods and Killen didn’t suffer any serious physical injuries but both “were real cold and scared.”

Following the incident, Smith reportedly told his mother he was injured when he got robbed. After he received medical attention for his wounds, Smith returned to the gravel pit pond, where he saw Collins’ nude body floating in the water. He shoved the college freshman’s legs through cinder blocks and threw her back into the water.

Around the same time, one of the two surviving cheerleaders was driving to the pit with the sheriff, and she spotted her abductor’s white Camaro. Bailey stopped Smith at gunpoint and arrested and charged him with murder, rape, and robbery.

The sheriff said Smith’s hands, coat, and car were drenched in blood. “He was barefooted and dripping wet,” Bailey recalled, noting the killer’s blood-soaked hands “looked like he had been killing hogs,” UPI reported.

Smith was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree rape, and common-law robbery, and he was sentenced to death.

At 2:12 a.m. on Jan. 24, 1995 — 14 years after he stole Collins’ life — Smith died by lethal injection at age 37.

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